14 May 2020

In late 2019 Justin O’Connor and Ben Eltham took a ‘snapshot’ from the last three Australian census datasets. It focused on cultural employment (cultural occupations, in whatever industry) and creative industries employment (all those, including ‘non-creative’ jobs such as managers in theatres) in South Australia and across Australia as a whole.

It found that cultural jobs were growing locally and nationally, but at a rate lower than employment as a whole. However, employment specifically in the creative industries had declined in South Australia and nationally. This hid a more complex picture. The overall decline in creative industries employment was due to a collapse in ‘cultural manufacturing’ or ‘blue collar’ jobs in the sector – especially printing of newspapers, magazine and books, as well as distribution, wholesale and retail functions.

These losses nationally were almost off set by job growth in design, architecture and advertising, and especially amongst freelance cultural workers. Locally however, South Australia, whilst losing the cultural manufacturing jobs, did not add jobs in design (one of the high-growth sectors nationally) and had lost a significant number of creative freelancers. The two big east coast cities of Melbourne and Sydney accounted for almost 85% of the growth in creative freelancer jobs, accelerating a growing regional disparity.

Those in cultural occupations are more educated than the average workforce, but they earn less, with a significant over-representation in the under $30,000 a year range. The rapid rise in freelance employment suggests an increase in precarious, contract employment, which is why the big agglomerations of Melbourne and Sydney are more attractive than a small pool like Adelaide.

The C-19 crisis has thus hit a sector already with a high degree of precarious employment after years of declining incomes and job security. The ways in which both Jobseeker and Jobkeeper schemes have missed many in this sector has been well-documented, contributing to the devasting effects of the virus lockdown. However, whilst the economic needs of this sector are urgent, we do not think that they should be seen primarily as an engine of economic recovery: primarily they are an engine of social and cultural recovery.

Strategies to develop the sector in South Australia should move away from ‘picking winners’ amongst a few high-growth companies and look to the creative ecosystem as a whole. In this way they can develop long term, sustainable recovery, one which will feed into the social and cultural fabric of life in South Australian cities and regions.

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